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On Education

weather: cloudy
outside: 12°C
mood: philosophical
In my family, it was always a given that education (including post-secondary) was required. My parents had always said that my education is a part of my worth (they actually used the term "dowry" once =). Mom and Dad aren't going to be around forever to take care of me, in fact, there will come a day when I need to take care of them. Money is finite, it can be spent and wasted. Businesses can go bankrupt. But what I know will always be with me. What I know can always earn me more money and I can always find work opportunities elsewhere.

An academic degree or some kind of professional training distinction is a mark of discipline. There's an understanding that you have done the work, you measure up to the standard and you're more likely to know what you're doing. There's a level of respect accorded to someone with some kind of distinction.

I find that University is not for learning things, per se. It's for learning how to learn. At least, that's the way I saw it and that's the way I've used my degree. How much information from my courses have I really gotten to use in my work? Well, nothing and everything.

I'm not doing the exact tasks from my courses, but I'm using the same skills that I learned while doing those tasks. These are some of the ones I remember:

How to Define the Problem

You can't really solve a problem unless you know what the problem is to begin with. Getting a handle on the problem is not as easy a task as it sounds. What exactly are you trying to do? What is the scope of the problem? What assumptions are you making? Are those reasonable assumptions to make with respect to the scope? What's the worst thing that could happen if you're wrong?

This is so fundamental, yet it's also amazingly easy to forget, professionally and personally.

How to Ask Good Questions

Knowing when/how to get help and how to ask questions is important. People always say, "there's no such thing as a stupid question", but that's just to be encouraging. There ARE stupid questions. If you keep asking stupid thoughtless questions, you'll lose the respect of those around you. But asking well researched, well thought-out questions shows you've done as much as you can which speaks to your integrity and work ethic.

How to Take Tests

You learn the ability to write exams. Is it fair to have three months worth of course work come down to a two hour exam? Sure, it is. Except it could be ten or fifteen years of your professional expertise under the microscope for fifteen minutes. Get used to it.

To have the entirety of what you know be measured in one moment is something that happens in life. All. The. Time. It happens in job interviews and that extends to business meetings. If you are a vendor, your client is going to want to know that they're going to get what they pay for before they award you the contract. You'll be evaluated in a few meetings at most. Instead of just selling yourself, like in a job interview, you're selling your company, your organization and your entire staff behind you.

Pressure of Deadlines

The pressure of deadlines is always there in school. Life is full of deadlines. Time limits are a reality in any line of work. School is a safe place where there are varying consequences of missing deadlines, but fortunately, few of them are that dire.

Interpersonal Skills

People are diverse in a University environment. Being involved in school things gave me the opportunity to work as a part of many different types of teams with different leadership and operation styles. You learn a lot about interpersonal dynamics working with group projects in class. Outside of class, there's student council, department student societies, clubs, etc. Each person has a role and their own responsibilities (President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc.) which is very similar to a corporate environment.

You learn to work with people who have different personality traits and that's important. You may also find lifelong friends and/or business partners.

Leadership is a part of it too. To be a good leader, I believe you have to first be a good follower/do-er. The leader has to understand what each person in their team is doing, be able to guide progress and juggle the project tasks between time, budget and functionality constraints. The three of them are almost ALWAYS conflicting.

These are not innate skills. It takes years and years of seeing examples and experiencing things first hand.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2004 05:00 pm (UTC)
This entry echoes a lot of the things I feel about getting a college education. I would sort of like to add a caveat of sorts to that though.

While everything you say is true, it is also true that people who finish college are the ones with the determination to finish it. Sometimes, it's because of personal desire and motivation, and more power to you. Sometimes, it's because of parental pressure, even if said student doesn't want to be there. This can be detrimental, but finishing one's education at the collegiate level at least shows that they can stick with something. Nobody ever said you would be happy doing it the whole time, but that is life too, because you probably won't be able to do whatever you want to do in life as well.
Apr. 14th, 2004 05:02 pm (UTC)
Very true.
Apr. 14th, 2004 05:56 pm (UTC)
on how to take tests
Testing is much deeper than that.

You must realize what the evaluator is looking for, on two levels, 1) what he/she views as important elements of the material, and 2) what he/she looks for in presentation of those elements. Some teachers will give almost full credit for an answer that has all the right formulas and makes a basic algebraic or math error in the execution. Others only care about the final answer, regardless of how much or how little was written to explain the result. In the working world, you must evaluate your audience when giving a presentation, how much detail should you give, and when and where?

I'd also include one other thing complementary to something you mentioned. From how to ask good questions, how to listen and read for what's important.

And one last one, which I'm realizing now... Identity. Who you are, who you want to be, who you get along with, and who gets along with you. Learning about yourself is crucial in life, or you will acheive "success" and be perfectly unhappy with yourself.
Apr. 14th, 2004 05:58 pm (UTC)
Re: on how to take tests
Excellent points, all three.
Apr. 14th, 2004 06:50 pm (UTC)
I think it really depends on what school you go to.
I learnt a lot in primary and secondary school (sort of 'high class' and posh private schools)... I was accepted to UIUC, but due to culture 'shock?' I didn't do so well (so I didn't learn so much -there-, but I figured out what went wrong).


The three years I spent at CityUHK? Complete waste of time. The teachers -sucked-. The material was pathetic. Hardly -anything- new, only stuff I'd already learnt from secondary school, work, or my own studying/hobbies.

Chinese families always put education first. I'm not so sure I agree, especially in Hong Kong, since the education system here is so flawed it's not funny. It's getting worse every year, too. Sigh.

Here, you don't learn to define the problem. You learn how to answer the problem the way the teacher wants you to answer it. You learn to memorize things by rote, but not truly -understand- what you're learning. You -don't- ask questions (following the military creed of 'never volunteer').

I don't know why the Hong Kong system is so messed up. But... on those grounds, I have to respectfully disagree with you.
Apr. 14th, 2004 06:58 pm (UTC)
Re: I think it really depends on what school you go to.
I agree that it does make a difference where you go to school. This is one of the reasons my parents didn't want me growing up in China.

I don't know why the Hong Kong system is so messed up.

Would you happen to know how similar the HK system is to the British?
Apr. 14th, 2004 07:22 pm (UTC)
Re: I think it really depends on what school you go to.
They -try- to be like the British... only to throw that out after 1997 and -try- to be like the American system (while placating China), which means...

What we end up with is a bastardized system (explain my French, but I'm being literal, not insulting, here) that doesn't have any of the strengths of the systems it seeks to emulate, but straddled with most of the weaknesses.

I mean, here we have Primary 1-6, Form 1-7... HKCEEs (like GCSEs), HK A-Levels (like GCE A-Levels), but that's just the form, not the actual... foundation. Hard to explain.
Apr. 14th, 2004 08:51 pm (UTC)
But what I know will always be with me.

That's very much my parents' view, too.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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